Calexico and Iron & Wine (from the album Years to Burn available on Sub Pop Records)
Fourteen years have passed between the last collaboration of Calexico and Iron & Wine releases. That does not constitute calling their latest album Years to Burnfor a follow title but more of a new recording from like-minded musicians circling around the same Indie music scene. Years to Burn, however, is worth the wait; a concise effort that reveals the assembled players can easily blend the neo-Folk of Iron & Wine with the desert-noir of Calexico into a pleasing package, loaded with vocal mystery and classic Calexico instrumentation, a melody territory where lonesome pedal steel riffs saddle up and ride beside mariachi horns and flamenco guitar.
“What Heavens Left” opens Years to Burn with atmospheric Calexico arrangements, Joey Burns harmonizing with Sam Beam via a whisper. “Father Mountain” is an acoustic Gospel number with references to a ‘mansion on a mountain’, the harmonies giving the tune a tripped-out Everly Brothers vibe. Desert psychedelia abounds in the instrumental bridge of “Outside El Paso” and “The Bitter Suite (Pajaro/Evil Eye/Tennessee Train)” is believable as a score for a modern spaghetti western. Whispered harmonies return in the title track, a solemn and beautiful ballad where Sam Beam’s hushed vocals back up Joey Burns. Album closer, “In Your Own Time”, is a warm love song where the narrator states ‘don’t be scared if I walk with the devil, run down the mountain and ask for your hand’, the beauty of the song occurring lyrically underscored by a meandering piano rambles.
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Sun House (from the E.P. Rosedale available as a self-release)
Three humans comprise Sun House, a London, UK-based trio delivering unapologetic Blues served up as four fresh-kill raw cuts on their recent E.P. release, Rosedale. The uncredited members heard in Rosedale are graveyard grit and psychedelic dosed swamp grooves as Sun House find lineage with the Blues of Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. Electric Blues, addicted to volume and a slave to the rhythm course underneath Rosedale travels to “Crossroads” on wheel humming with highway vengeance and makes a choice for “Whatever It Takes” standing on British-Steel Blues Rock traditions as Sun House strut in, clear their throat, and head for the ozone with “Runnin’”.
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Shane Hall (from the E.P. River available on LAW Records)
In a Shane Hall song the common ground lies his delivery. The depth of Shane’s voice amplifies complete immersion into the soul of the story and the unique ability to have each note dig deep to the core of the character. Shane Hall uses his words as weapons in “Revolver”, letting the music create the mood as he admits guilt on hard-edged guitar slashes that cut through any remorse in “Father, Father”. Over the course of consistent releases, Shane Hall follows two 2018 single releases, and a previous 2019 E.P. (West) with his recent E.P., River.
Alongside his voice, the Blues in the guitar are constants throughout Riveras the E.P. finds the morning sun pounding out a Tex-Mex rhythm in “Ride” while tattered chord strums and frenetic fiddling are the fuel for “Fancy Car”. Shane Hall provides the human condition in a song, soulfully stating the worldwide experiences of men and women, opening Riverwith an accounting of their ways in “Grand Pursuit” laying the story on a train track rhythm accented and poked by a barely-restrained fiddle riffs.
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I See Hawks in L.A. (from the album Hawks with Good Intentions available on Western Seeds Records)
When I See Hawks in LA titled their 2006 release California Country, the SoCal based band put the style and the sound into worldwide conversation. Using harmonies, electric and acoustic instrumentation, literary verses, and choruses big as the west coast shoreline, I See Hawks in LA gave the genre a soundtrack. The Hawks met Liverpool, England-based duo, The Good Intentions, playing Pappy & Harriet’s in the California high desert, continuing to play and co-write with the band both in the UK and the US. The results of vocal and writing collaborations is the recently released, Hawks with Good Intentions, the album continuing a sonic lineage of a Country music unique to the cosmic air of the Southern California mountains, deserts, and ocean.
The Good Intentions, R. Peter Davies and Gabrielle Monk, join voices with The Hawks lead singer Rob Waller adding to the harmonies of Paul Lacques (guitar) and Paul Marshall (bass). The rhythm of the rails sway in waltz time as Peter and Rob trade lead vocals, making their way home in “Rolling the Boxcars” while the ¾ time stays in place as Hawks with Good Intentions gazes down into an L.A. River homeless encampment for “Flying Now”. The bands carpool to the back streets of Memphis with “White Cross” and view the devastation of CA wildfires from a distance in “Hills of Fire”. The stories of I See Hawks in LA and The Good Intentions are as rich as the harmonies they create. Hawks with Good Intentions introduces “Rambling Girl” as its story champions an independent woman while the guitars stir sonic clouds for the noir tale featured in the murder ballad “Things Like These” and build a rhythm out of the scratchy chords for “Steel Rails”.
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Black Pumas (from the album Black Pumas available on ATO Records)
Black Pumas self-titled debut digs into an old-school vibe while being firmly planted in the here and now of 2019. With nods to the sweet Soul of Sam Cooke, Black Pumas keep the sound gritty with a dose of dirty groove. This is a band set on Rock’n’Roll and R&B influences, blaxploitation films, and a 1970s city street-life soundtrack, all stacked up into a very listenable package. Album opener, “Black Moon Rising”, is a dirty love song, winking at someone who wants to croon ‘everytime you’re dressed in black, you give a grown man a heart attack, I pray that good lord will bring you back, you’re my sunshine.”
“Colors” may be the R&B hit of the album, a tune dosed with gospel flair while a cut like “Fire” opens with horns and punchy surf guitar. “Stay Gold” strays into some of the Funkadelic ballad territory, a place where psychedelic underpinnings live comfortably amongst the groove, and a track like “Old Man” has a home in the Bill Withers neighborhood. “Touch the Sky” is driven by horns while also having some delicately placed acoustic guitar and a big solo that points to Eddie Hazel (Parliament/Funkadelic), and “Sweet Conversation” closes Black Pumaswith a beautiful ballad. It is easy to namedrop who the band sound like though the obvious only proves that Black Pumas have obviously done some musical history homework.
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Andy Thorn (from the album Frontiers Like These available on Thornpipe Music)
Andy Thorn, banjoman for Leftover Salmon, offers a solo release with Frontiers Like These. An overachiever, Andy Thorn finds his place on the stage outside of his main band gig and solo work, joining a Carolina outfit of players with “Five-String Picker in a Second String Band”. Frontiers Like Thesefeatures Andy’s name on the cover though the star of the album is his banjo. Andy Thorn hops aboard a dreamscape melody for “A Banjo Oddity” while he holds on tight as “Thornado” spins and twirls while a slight Celtic breeze steers “Star of St. Elmo” and plays a reel for “Isabelle’s Wake”.
Tributing the growing cannabis industry, “Blazing New Frontiers” champions the women and men on the front lines, using the successes of Andy’s homestate of Colorado as the storyline. Frontiers Like Thesefocuses on other topical subjects when Andy Thorn sings of the environment (“Standing Still”), hope (“Coming Round Again”), freedom (“Above It All”), and advises to listen for the sound of coming change (“Warning Call”).
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Back alley jazz, Ragtime, and Old Time Music are the settings that The Lark and The Loon dial in for 2, the recent release from the Eureka Springs, Arkansas duo. There is a bounce to the ragged rhythm that propels The Lark and The Loon down the road in “Pack the Suitcase” as the pair make a groove of rattle and strum for “Wishing Well”, follow an accordion through street cafes for “Scenes of Midnight”, and weather “Eye of the Storm” buoyed by blasts from harmonica and kazoo. Husband and wife songwriting team of Jeff Rolfzen and Rocky Steen- Rolfzen are The Lark and The Loon, the duo finding a Vaudeville stage for the vocal gymnastics of “Follies of Love” as they offer advice on the melodic breeze blowing through “Shine What You Got”. 2tosses off winter, embracing spring by heading to the rooftop in “Take the Stairs” and attaches a shadow of trouble to “Ms. Fortune” as The Lark and The Loon make their woes into a song with “Change Our Tune”.
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Thom Chacon (from the E.P. American Way available on Pie Records)
Heartbreak, reflection and political questioning are the themes for American Way, Thom Chacon’s EP follow up to 2018’s Blood in the USA.His gritty, road weary voice remains the perfect vehicle to deliver equally gritty, road weary tales accentuated by the subtle touches of Tommy Mandel’s Hammond B-3. American Wayis an EP that proves Thom Chacon has meandered around the block a time or two; eyes wide open and pen in hand. Think back to that first time your heart was broken, your mind locked on the person doing the breaking. Lines like ‘see you holding his hand, he pulls you in close. Look into his eyes, it’s like an overdose. My darling, you making me a fool, can’t think of nothing, nothing but you’ from EP opener, “Nothin’ But You”, pour heartache from a bottomless pitcher.
“The American Way” looks at America and its current states of division, a song loaded with heavy hitting lyrics that examine ‘some pushing hate, some preaching love’ to those who don’t want to be told who to love or how to pray. With the line ‘you can’t hear me, I can’t hear you, over the deafening sounds of the counterfeit news’. Thom Chacon captures a hopelessness due to an unwillingness to listen, claiming we may all be doomed to ‘live free or die the American way’. Closing with a cover of Joan Osbornes “One of Us,” Thom Chacon exits American Waya tune that hypothetically evens out a spiritual playing field.
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Mat Callahan and Yvonne Moore (from the album Working-Class Heroes: A History of Struggle in Song available on Free Dirt Records)
The words of those affected by struggle continue to carry banners and placards up high decades after their ink has dried on paper with Working Class Heroes: A History of Struggle in Song. The collection of protests is gathered by Mat Callahan and Yvonne Moore, both Folk musicians as performers, curators, and activists in the genre. The project began with Yvonne Moore’s research of the legendary songbook, Hard Hitting Song for Hard-Hit People, and discovery of songwriter Sarah Ogan Gunning. Mat Callahan and Yvonne Moore found that the though popular in the times her songs were first heard, Sarah Ogan Gunning’s role in the labor movement was lost outside of her songs. Working Class Heroes: A History of Struggle in Songopens with a cut from the Sarah Ogan Gunning catalog, Yvonne Moore offering an acapella version of “Come All You Coal Miners”, the words from the voice of a coalminer’s wife urging change. Working Class Heroeschampions Gunning’s words with “Girl of Constant Sorrow” and “Come On Friends and Let’s Go”, attacking the powers-that-be with “I Hate the Capitalist System” and sharing woes in “Dreadful Memories”.
Woody Guthrie and his songs are continual examples of how words and music can incite change, and Matt Callahan along with Yvonne Moore keeps the sentiments fresh, presenting the protests with voices amplified by passion and united in one cause. Working Class Heroesincludes the songs of Woody Guthrie (“Mama Don’t ‘Low No Bush-Wah’s Hangin’ Around”) alongside lesser-known names such as Ella May Wiggins, John Handcox and Sarah Ogan Gunning siblings Aunt Molly Jackson and Jim Garland. Mat Callahan and Yvonne Moore are the torchbearers carrying A History of Struggle in Songas they share dreams with “Joe Hill”, warn “There Is Mean Things Happening in This Land”, and take sides in “We Have Feed You All for a Thousand Years”, reminding that the past is never far away with the traditional tunes “Rock-a-Bye Baby” and “Going Down the Road Feelin’ Bad”.
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Shinyribs (from the album Fog & Bling available on Mustard Lid Records)
The latest Shinyribs record didn’t come easy. Kevin Russell, the frontman driving force behind the Austin, Texas-based band described the whole creation ofFog & Bling as ‘a struggle’, Said struggle is concealed while the excellence of Fog & Bling is revealed as a good time bundle of classic Shinyribs via zesty Roots Rock and swampy Soul. Since the days of his previous band The Gourds, Kevin Russell has been the mayor of a quirky lyrical world full of Trans Am muscle cars and taco stands, whether it is in the opening, CB Radio simulation of “Sing it Right” the loose funk of “Good Times and Bad” or the Jethro Tull vibe in the tastefully placed flute runs in “Got Sum”, that lyrical world is created over a bed of southern groove in one happening package.
While many recordings use demos as a blueprint, erasing for a clean slate when entering the studio to record, Kevin Russell will use demos as the foundation that he builds the remaining parts of the song builds upon. Kevin’s struggle came when the demos were all him being Shinyribs and not the band. Fog & Bling could have become a solo Kevin Russell effort and that ‘bummed me out’…..Kevin Russell further explain that ‘I thought I had gone the wrong direction and maybe I shouldn’t have even attempted this fool’s gambit of building on demos. It felt so much about me and I felt guilty and self-conscious. I’m doing multi instrumental stuff and I do that in my shed in my home recordings; I do that just for ideas and arrangement, so I can give my players just a place to start. It felt a little like I was tooting my own horn too much and I felt like I should shelve it, or make a solo record, because it felt like it wasn’t a band record with Shinyribs and I felt kind of bad about that.”
The guilt passed when the rest of the band joined Kevin in building out the demos, with the result of Fog & Bling achieving the Shinyribs sound. The horns, the back-up singers, and the groove from Kevin Russell’s longtime drummer (dating back to the Gourds) Keith Langford have a solid musical identity.
‘Once I added the elements of the Tijuana Trainwreck Horns and The Shiny Soul Sisters it started feeling and sounding more like a Shinyribs record. I spent all this time doing it, I should put it out, and I can call it a Shinyribs record, but man, it maybe was the hardest record I ever made, it was a struggle at times’.
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